Passenger Challenging Vehicle Search – People v Mead – Michigan Supreme Court Opinion

On April 19, 2019, the Michigan Supreme Court specifically identified that a Michigan passenger challenging vehicle search to be constitutional in People v Mead. This means that a passenger has been recognized to maintain standing to challenge the constitutionality of a search of a motor vehicle or the objects or area that they maintain a expectation of privacy over. The right to challenge the search itself extends from the 4th Amendment of the U.S. and Michigan Constitution(s).

The case itself involved the Defendant (Mead) being a passenger within a motor vehicle that was stopped for an expired plate. The passenger or defendant was inevitably removed, patted down, and then searched the motor vehicle. The officer reported that he obtained consent from the driver or owner of the vehicle, but did not request or think to request permission to search a backpack that was also in the vehicle. The backpack was in the front passenger part of the motor vehicle, near the defendant and owner of the backpack. The Michigan Supreme Court held that, prior to asserting the right found within the 4th Amendment, an individual defendant must first establish that he or she held and maintained a legitimate expectation of privacy in the property or area to be searched.

Identifying Consent

After identifying and finding that an individual could maintain an expectation of privacy in the above case, it went on to explore whether the search was unreasonable in nature. Only searches, even when there is an expectation of privacy, that precede the use of evidence against the defendant are searches that are unreasonable. Consent by an individual holding the interest or expectation of privacy can make the search reasonable, even when there is no probable cause to search or search warrant present. There are multiple situations where consent can be provided; however, in the above situation, the driver nor the passenger had provided each other authority to grant permission to search. This meant the passenger’s backpack could not be consented by the driver in this situation, and thus the court ultimately determined that no consent was found and the evidence was to be suppressed.

The End Result . . .

Now a passenger challenging vehicle search has the ability to stand their ground, make the officer request your specific consent in order to search containers, bags or the like during traffic stops. A passenger challenging vehicle search should always consult with a criminal lawyer in order to best situate themselves and their criminal case. It is always important to consult with counsel on any matter regardless of the individual’s intent to represent themselves in any court of law.